16 Entrepreneurs and Influencers in the Inland Empire you Should Know About

By: Sharjeel Sohaib


Nov 19, 2022


Inland Empire Influencers

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The Inland Empire is the country’s logistics and supply chain hub. It has a massive presence with the biggest retail and e-commerce companies worldwide, including Amazon and Walmart. It is also a booming market for CleanTech startups. 

With new companies and startups moving to the Southern California region, Inland Empire’s tech scene continues to grow consistently. The empire is home to a variety of innovators in the tech industry. 

With so much happening in the region’s tech scene, Startempire Wire takes the time to acknowledge the people changing the Inland Empire’s tech and startup industry for the better. 

Ready to meet some of the region’s most influential people in the startup ecosystem? We’ve got the breakdown! 


ESRI- Jack Dangermond 

Jack Dangermond is the founder and president of Esri. He and his wife, Laura, founded Esri in 1969 on the idea that computer-based mapping and analysis could significantly contribute to geographic planning and environmental science.

ESRI’s founder is the pioneer of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Inland Empire. The company founded by the husband-wife duo is known as the ‘Google of the Inland Empire’ due to its spacious campus, organizational culture, and outlook.

Being a pioneer in the GIS software industry, one of the flagship talks of ESRI co-founder Jack Dangermond was when he spoke with TED technology curator Simone Ross about how ESRI is building a geospatial nervous system that reveals patterns, visualizes trends — and could transform the way we make decisions about nearly everything.

An exciting aspect of Jack’s entrepreneurial journey is that his company is still private, meaning it has not obtained outside or VC funding. Instead, the company has grown organically through its profits and market growth to become a unicorn. 

ESRI’s co-founder Jack Dangermond’s philosophy may be called “People and planet are inextricably linked

Bourns, Inc. Gordon Bourns

Gordon Bourns is the Chairman and CEO of Bourns, Inc. He received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Irvine, and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined Bourns as a regular employee in 1973, and during his 45-year career with Bourns, he has held positions in sales, marketing, engineering, quality assurance, and manufacturing, as well as general management.

Gordon Bourn has always championed the cause of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the Inland Empire. He has served as the Vice President of STEP (Science & Technology Education Partnership), a consortium of Inland Southern California educators, business leaders, and government officials.

Another significant contribution of Gordon Bourns and his company is the Bourns Technology Center which provides a strong partnership between resident high-tech companies and the community. The Bourns Technology Center is located at the entrance to one of the fastest developing industrial locations in Riverside- Hunter Industrial Park. 

Perceptyx- John Borland 

John Borland is the co-founder and CEO of Perceptyx, a Human Resources Software company with an estimated 103 employees. The company John co-founded has grown through organic growth and mergers and acquisitions. Perceptyx has acquired relevant HR-tech companies, including 3 in the last five years. A total of 2 acquisitions came from private equity firms.

John graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is currently based in Temecula, United States.

Stratosfuel: Jonathan Palacios-Avila

Stratosfuel Co-Founder/Vice President of Research & Marketing Jonathan Palacios-Avila. The startup has so far obtained funding of $4.6 million. 

StratosFuel, based out of San Bernardino, California received $3M from Cal Energy Commission to Build Alternate Fuel Stations‘, reported Startempire Wire in February this year.  

Panda Restaurant Group: Andrew Cherng  

Andrew Cherng, Co-Founder, Co-Chair, and Co-CEO of Panda Restaurant Group, is the leading visionary behind the Inland Empire business group. He helped propel Panda Group to become the world leader in Asian dining experiences.

Andrew was featured in Forbes magazine, the Los Angeles Business Journal, and the Asia Society of Southern California for his influence as a leading business figure in the region.

StarNav: Joshua Morales

Joshua Morales obtained his undergraduate and doctorate degrees at the University of California, Riverside. 

He co-founded StarNav with Christian Ardito and Michael Morales in downtown Riverside following his graduate studies. Since then, StarNav has developed connections with universities in the Inland Empire to offer new and recent graduates high-tech jobs. As the business creates cutting-edge positioning, navigation, and timing technologies, Joshua and the other founders are dedicated to advancing this region.

At the first Inland Empire Innovation Homecoming in 2022, Dr. Joshua Morales received the Technology Innovator of Distinction award.

Venture Capitalists (VCs) and Angels

Mike Napoli – Tech Coast Angels 

Mike Napoli has been a member of the Tech Coast Angels, the largest angel investor network in the U.S., since 2000. He is the founder and Chairman of the Absolute Return Group, an institutional investment advisor. He has been mentoring and investing in early-stage companies since 1997. 

Surya Jayaweera- TCA 

Surya Jayaweera is a global and strategic business development executive with over 19 years of diverse and in-depth domestic and international experience. Surya has also been associated with Gaingels, a leading LGBTQIA+/Allies investment syndicate and one of North America’s largest and most active private investors. 

Marty KaufmanInvestor Tech Coast Angels

Marty Kaufman is from Rancho Cucamonga, the President of Accent Computer Solutions, Inc., and an investor in Tech Coast Angels. He started Accent Computer Solutions as a consulting firm in 1987. His firm helps outsource your IT or augment the capabilities of internal IT staff,

Mark Mitchell – Member of Tech Coast Angels 

Mark Mitchell is a member of the Inland Empire Tech Coast Angels network. 

Mark was formerly a senior consultant at Orange County Small Business Development Center. He also served as the Director of TriTech Small Business Development Center and Executive Director of the Business and Corporate Innovation Office of Economic Development, Riverside Community College District. 

Mark is the President of High Growth Business Solutions, which provides business transformation solutions for small businesses and non-profits. 

Ecosystem Influencers


Michael Stull- CSUSB 

  • Michael Stull, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), received the Golden Apple Award 2021-22 on April 7th. Professor Michael is a living example of devotion to the cause of entrepreneurship and has assisted hundreds of students in starting their businesses.
  • His influence in shaping the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Inland Empire has been instrumental. Prof Michael Stull is the Director of California State University, San Bernardino’s Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE) (CSUSB). He also serves as Interim Director of the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration’s School of Entrepreneurship, the state’s first and only School of Entrepreneurship.
  • Stull teaches the discipline and has been a practitioner, enabling him to bring a unique and practical aspect to CSUSB’s entrepreneurship program. 

Kevin Meredith 4th Sector Innovations (4th SI)

Kevin Meredith is the founder of 4th Sector Innovations (or 4th SI), a boutique startup incubator focused on making the power of innovation and entrepreneurship more accessible so that people can make their most significant contributions. His core expertise is in

  • Corporate innovation
  • Start-up mentoring

Scott Brovsky | Director, EPIC SBDC

  • Scott Brovsky has been working with the University of California Riverside, mentoring entrepreneurs and tech startups since January 2017. He has helped to build a tech ecosystem in the Inland Southern California region, and he led the launch of a tech-focused Small Business Development Center called EPIC SBDC in April of 2018.
  • He founded VC-funded mobile games studio Muti Labs and the Temecula-based sports tech company NZN Labs/LIT Pro. 

Verious B. Smith III | Founder Startempire Wire 

  • Verious B. Smith III is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Startempire Wire and Philoveracity, a web development and brand design agency in Ontario City, California.  
  • Verious is originally from Texas and moved to Riverside County, founded two companies in the Inland Empire. He is also involved in organizing the Tech-o-Tuesday meet-up founded by Chris Hernandez.  

Chris Hernandez: Tech-o-Tuesday

Mihai Patru

  • Mihai Pătru works as a researcher at the Romanian Diplomatic Institute in Bucharest. He was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
  • Mihai is currently serving as the Executive Director at Caravanserai Project, a project that offers structure and accountability, supplies specialized skills, and brings networks of individuals together. 
  • Mihai was also a Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow at the US Department of State before joining the CTR (2013-2014). His work at CTR focuses on human rights challenges’ political, economic, and social ramifications.


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